Patience is required for deer researchers

This doe wearing a radio collar supplies much-needed information about winter survival rates, herd movements and other data to biologists who monitor her activity on a regular basis year-round.

One of the several challenges in doing mule deer research, or any wildlife research, is that results aren’t available right away.

Sometimes it takes months or years to see any response to habitat or animal manipulations and even then, the result might not be what you expect or want.

“Some of the frustration is that the general public and in particular the hunters want a quicker response,” Parks and Wildlife terrestrial biologist Darby Finley said. “Even I want that, but it takes building the database through time to be able to understand what’s the right thing for deer.”

That database includes both animal and vegetative/habitat components, neither of which respond quickly to manipulation.

“It’s trial and error, and sometimes we may not get the outcome we’re looking for,” Finley said. “Plus, there’s only so much we can do because Mother Nature plays a big role in all of this.”

The role of nature came up repeatedly at the Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting earlier this month in Grand Junction when several speakers, including state big game manager Andy Holland, reminded the commission the Western Slope deer herds still are recovering from the winter of 2007-2008.

“Not all herds are dwindling,” Holland told the commission. “Six are improving, so we are starting to see signs” of recovery.

If every winter since 2008 had been as moderate as the 2011-2012 winter, more of the herds might be much farther along the road to recovery.

But the mild years are offset by rough ones, with deep snows and bitter cold, where survival is tough and the herds again take a hit.

“In 2010-2011 there was lots of snow and low fawn survival, 2011-2012 was mild with good survival but again this year, with those December snow events and cold temperatures, again low survival rates,” Finley said. “So it’s been up and down the last three years.”

Biologists estimate Colorado’s deer herd at around 408,000 animals, down from 418,000 in 2011.


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